Championship Column

Three For Calhoun In The Blink Of An Eye

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HOUSTON — In one of those simple, brilliant leads that occasionally grace the sports pages, Courant beat writer Michael Arace sent 17 words back to Connecticut from St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 29, 1999.

"The UConn Huskies won the national championship Monday night.


It has been written in your lifetime."

The 17 words were 98 years in the making, of course, yet they concisely captured the sweeping nature of a most unlikely achievement.

Jim Calhoun's first grandchild, Emily, had been born that month in 1999, 24 days earlier to be exact, and as she sat there with the other five Calhoun grandchildren Monday night at Reliant Stadium, a thought flashed. Emily's grandpa stood to win three national championships in her lifetime.

Yes, the first one took forever.

And three happened in the blink of a young girl's eye.

As Kemba Walker fell into Calhoun's arms and buried his tired head into his coach's shoulder after UConn's 53-41 national championship victory over Butler, both the import of a coach's improbable achievement and crowning moment of a remarkable young athlete's life came together in one sweet, sweet embrace.

Confetti fell from the rafters. Tears gathered in their eyes.

A young man and an old man hugged, and it was beautiful. For the record, at that moment, Kemba, hobbling slightly, fatigued, was the old man. Calhoun, at 68 the oldest coach ever to win a national championship, never looked younger.

Knowing of the deaths of two people close to him, knowing of the NCAA violations case, knowing of the up-and-down ride of a young team turned champion, Kemba smiled at his team's achievement.

"We made coach's year," he said.

"I needed this team," Calhoun said.

What seemed impossible once has been made possible three times, by players like Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, by players that came from all over to gather in Houston. And now, too, by players like Walker, Alex Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb. What seemed impossible once has been made possible by the fiercest competitor, the best winner and the worst loser Connecticut has ever known.

On Sunday, Calhoun talked about pumping gas, making candy, cutting stone and collecting metal in a shipyard among the many jobs he held to help support his family after his dad had died. It hardened him. And it hardened his view of himself. He still calls himself a high school coach. He still says he isn't coaching blueblood.

Yet as he peered through the shining moment of a special night in Houston into the rising sun of the morning, Jim Calhoun can see his face on the Mount Rushmore of coaches. Up there with John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only men ever to win three national titles. Amazing.

"My dad told me something a long time ago — you're known by the company you keep," Calhoun said. "This is awful sweet company.

"My legacy? Who writes your legacy? If it comes to my legacy all I ask is talk to my players."

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